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PA Cyber graduate appears in new movie "Bully"

Jun 19, 2018

PA Cyber alumnus and actor Jason Zacek attends the world premiere of "Bully" June 15 at the TCL Chinese Theater in Los Angeles.

Jason Zacek always wanted to be an actor. Growing up, he begged his grandmother to take him on auditions in New York City, something she often did with her own children.

"My grandmother told me if I wanted to do acting, I had to show her," said Zacek, now 21.

His grandparents, Mary and Gary Thomas, didn't think it was good to have a kid in the industry, but Zacek was determined. When he turned 16, they began driving three hours to New York City for auditions, and he landed his first small part. He has since worked on more than 100 sets.

Zacek is appearing in "Bully," a movie starring Danny Trejo (Machete), Ron Canada (Cinderella Man), Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos), and Tucker Albrizzi (Big Time Rush). A world premiere aired June 15 at the TCL Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. The movie has also been showing at film festivals throughout the country.

Filmed in Toms River, New Jersey, "Bully" was written, directed and produced by father and son duo Santino and Joe Campanelli. The film is about Jimmy, a heavy-set high school kid who is tormented by Miles and his friends. After a fight on his way home from school, Jimmy has a chance meeting with former professional boxer "Action" Jackson and learns to defend himself to overcome the bullies.

Filming "Bully," surrounded by veteran actors has provided invaluable experience. Zacek, who has a signature scar over his right eye, said he was invited by the directors to play Neil, one of the movie's main three bullies, whom he describes as a pit bull.

"It starts out with us bullying the kids, then at the end of the film they overcome us and they're the leaders of the school then."

Zacek's proud grandparents aren't surprised he ended up in movies. They raised him, while his brothers grew up with their mother and stepfather.

"He was always a very mature kid. He never was a child. He was always a mini adult," Mary Thomas said with a laugh. "From day one in school, I'd say what do you want to be when you grow up. He would always say, 'I want to be rich and famous.' That was his goal since he was a little kid. He's living out and going for his dream."

As his opportunities accelerated, Zacek left his brick-and-mortar school in 10th grade to attend PA Cyber. The flexibility allowed him to be able to attend more auditions. He had an agent in Philadelphia and he took acting classes with a coach.

"He wanted to do PA Cyber because he wanted more time to go to New York for auditions, so that's what we did," she said.

"PA Cyber was awesome," said Zacek, who's twin brother, Jeremy, also graduated from PA Cyber. "I was really busy so I didn't get to do much of the activities that they usually have. We went to the Philly Zoo once. That was really fun."

Zacek said he worked his way up, doing smaller roles in high school, to what he considers bigger roles today. A skateboarder, he appeared on a show "Shades of Blue," with Jennifer Lopez which led to an invitation to skateboard in her music video.

While attending PA Cyber, Zacek landed a small role in a flashback scene on the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black," the film "Three Generations," and the film "Nerve," with Dave Franco. His first job was on a show called "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment," a documentary series on the history of the city. Zacek appeared on billboards as one of the infamous Paxton Boys.

After graduation, at 19 years old, he left the small borough of Lehighton in the Lexus he purchased at age 18 and moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream. He has lived there for more than two years now and said everything is going well. Zacek has worked on "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Moral Compass." He recently modeled for a baseball campaign with Dick's Sporting Goods.

"I've gotten to do lot of cool stuff. I've gotten to work with a lot of people and got a lot of wisdom from some big actors."

With three managers and two agents assisting, he auditions two or three times a day. He said he is only going for leading roles now. He auditioned to be a regular in a television series with Dax Shepard and a role in the new "Spiderman" movie.

"It's harder because the competition is a lot of the big actors. I auditioned up against Nick Jonas and Nick Jonas got [the role], but it's cool I'm getting those types of opportunities."

He was chosen by a Washington D.C. wax museum to portray a war hero because of his precise height and measurements, as well as the scar on his forehead. He received an all-expense paid trip to New York City, where they spent two hours casting his body to mold the wax figure.
As someone who has been bullied, Zacek said it is interesting to portray a bully. He also had a role as a bully in the short film, "Blood." In middle school when he began acting, Zacek said he started getting picked on.

"The kids didn't bully me bad, but they did bully me about acting. When I started talking about acting, they would kind of bully me and say stuff about it. Now it's ironic because I'm going to be in this big film being a bully, not that I am a bully but I'm playing one."

About a month ago, he went to sign up for a baseball league in Los Angeles and a few 20- and 30-year-old guys on the team mocked him about modeling for Dick's.

"These guys got really jealous of me being a model for Dick's Sporting Goods and pretty much talked about me. The coach was fine, it was a couple kids on the team. That was the first time I'd been bullied in forever."

Mostly, he hears encouraging words from people now that everyone sees the work he's doing. He said he comes back home frequently, about every other month, to visit family and audition for acting work. Zacek believes his work will eventually pay off big.

"It really takes that one job with acting to get set for life. It takes that one role to set you up pretty good."

PA Cyber graduate Jason Zacek speaks at "Bully" premiere as cast and crew members look on. This article is part of our ongoing series on PA Cyber alumni.

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About PA Cyber

Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instructional methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers, and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and does not charge tuition to students or families.